Thursday, February 16, 2012

Egypt's Brotherhood warns US over aid cut-off

Egypt's Brotherhood warns US over aid cut-off

Muslim Brotherhood says it may review its 1979 peace deal with Israel if US cuts aid to Egypt over recent NGO dispute.

The Muslim Brotherhood has warned that Egypt may review its 1979 peace deal with Israel if the United States cuts aid to the country, a move that could undermine a cornerstone of Washington's Middle East policy.

Washington has said the aid is at risk due to an Egyptian probe into civil society groups that has resulted in charges
against at least 43 activists, including 19 Americans who have been banned from leaving the country.

Egypt has been one of the world's largest recipients of US aid since it signed the peace treaty with Israel, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which does not yet hold the reins of power, said any decision to cut that aid because of the investigation would raise serious questions.

"We [Egypt] are a party [to the treaty] and we will be harmed so it is our right to review the matter," Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood leader, told Reuters.

"The aid was one of the commitments of the parties that signed the peace agreement. So, if there is a breach from one side it gives the right of review to the parties," added Erian, the deputy leader of the organization's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the biggest group in the newly elected parliament.

Increased pressure

His remarks are likely to increase pressure on all sides to resolve one of the worst crises in US-Egyptian ties since the treaty was signed.

In similar comments, FJP leader Mohamed Mursi said in a statement that US talk of halting the aid  was "misplaced", adding that the peace agreement "could stumble".

He said: "We want the march of peace to continue in a way that serves the interest of the Egyptian people."

The 1979 treaty made Egypt the first Arab state to forge peace with Israel and underpinned Washington's relationship with Cairo during Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, during which the Brotherhood was officially banned.

The Sinai peninsula, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, was handed back to Egypt under the agreement, and diplomatic relations between Israel and Egypt were established.

The Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the single biggest political force in Egypt since Mubarak was ousted a year ago, winning more than 43 per cent of the seats in recent parliamentary elections.

But, for now, Egypt is ruled by a council of military generals to whom Mubarak handed power on February 11, 2011. They are due to make way at the end of June for an elected civilian president, a post the Brotherhood has said it will not contest.

The military council has repeatedly pledged to honour Egypt's international obligations, including the peace deal with
Israel, a position the Brotherhood has shared until now.

The group has become increasingly outspoken on foreign policy since its parliamentary success, directing harsh criticism at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government over its efforts to crush a revolt against his rule.

NGO issue

In his annual budget message to the US Congress this week, President Barack Obama asked for military aid to Egypt to be kept at $1.3bn and sought $250m in economic aid.

But General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday he had told Egypt's ruling generals that the NGO issue must be resolved satisfactorily to allow military cooperation with Cairo to continue.

A State Department spokeswoman also said that failure to resolve the impasse could endanger the funds.

Charges filed against those accused in the investigation include that they worked for groups not properly licensed in Egypt and received foreign funding illegally.

The Egyptian government has said the case is a matter of law.

But Egyptian NGOs accused the authorities on Wednesday of mounting a scare campaign aimed at deflecting attention from what they said was the failure of the army-led administration.

The 29 NGOs issued a statement accusing the authorities of "creating imaginary battles with other states".

Tensions were further inflamed with the release of remarks made last year by Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Abul Naga in which she linked US funding to civil society to an American plot to undermine Egypt.

She spoke of what she called an attempt to steer the post-Mubarak transition in "a direction that realized American and Israeli interests".

The rise of Islamist groups since Mubarak was ousted has caused deep concern in Israel. Despite their worries, Israeli officials do not believe the next president of Egypt will tear up the peace treaty.

A cleric seen as close to the Brotherhood said in an interview published on Wednesday that Egypt could not risk any military confrontation with Israel, adding that the country's main concern must be its economic problems.

"Egypt cannot enter a struggle in the military sense and leave the affairs of building on the internal front," Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian who lives in Qatar, told Shorouk newspaper.

"Now the citizens cannot remain without work."

Source: Agencies

The 1979 peace deal is the first one which was made between an Arab state and Israel [EPA]

US plans for Syria and Egypt

Jake Sullivan, the director of policy planning at the US state department, speaks about engagement in the region.

One year after the Arab Spring began, the US State Department continues to deal with the crisis in Syria while working towards reshaping US policy on Egypt.

Rosiland Jordan speaks to Jake Sullivan, the director of policy planning at the state department, about US engagement in the region.

Source: Al Jazeera

Egypt military's economic empire

Calls for accountability and transparency grow at a time the military has fallen out of favour with the public.

The military’s vast economic interests in Egypt are one of those secrets which is not really a secret. Their social clubs, complexes, villages and products are clear for all to see, but their precise hold on the country’s economy has never been determined.

Analysts have predicted the Egyptian military control anything from 15 per cent to 40 per cent of the economy. Even those are wild estimates.

Khaled Fahmy, head of history at the American University in Cairo, calls it a “grey economy, in the sense that we know very little of them, they are not subject to any Parliamentary scrutiny, the Egyptian government auditing office has no control or knowledge of them".

The military has, over decades, created an industrial complex that is well oiled and well funded. In over 35 factories and companies it produces everything from flat-screen televisions and pasta to refrigerators and cars.

It owns restaurants and football grounds. Much of the work force are conscripts paid below the average wage. And it is not just manufactured goods: the military provide services, managing petrol stations for example.

The influence extends far beyond Cairo across Egypt. They are huge land owners in the country.

Prime real estate

We do not know exactly how much land military personnel own, but do a quick drive through Nasr City in Cairo and look at the prime real estate in army hands.

They also speculate on the value of land which has proven very lucrative for them. So too have the joint ventures they have entered into with construction companies building resorts and other complexes.

Their soldiers live in their own mini villages. The army has become a separate entity untouchable by the state with an anaudited economy.

The Egyptian military consists of almost half a million conscripts. They have not fought a war since 1973 and are well funded. These soldiers need to be placated and controlled.

Fahmy explains how under Mubarak a tight lid was kept on his officer corps because of the deep and historic anxiety of a coup [after all it was a coup in 1952 which brought the army to power in the first place].

“Mubarak made sure his high brass are loyal to him and he made sure his mid-ranking officers were put under tight control and one way to do this was to force them into retirement when they get to the age of 50, then the question is what do you do with all these retired officers?”

It’s estimated that up to 250,000 officers were retired under the 30 years of Mubarak’s presidency - a huge number of men and families that needed to be placated and one way was to open up prospects of employment for them after retirement.

Reward for officers

Under Nasser, ex army officers would be rewarded by being given ministerial positions or positions in the provincial governorates.

Under Sadat and Mubarak, Fahmy explains, that was not the preferred options to placate officers and so Sadat and even more so Mubarak would reward army officers by inserting them into this empire and service industry, and reward police officers with political positions.

The military’s economy, like its political dealings is more under the spotlight now than it has ever been. On a grassroots level groups like April 6 are starting a campaign to boycott army made products.

As one member, Salem Mahmoud puts it:“Just like we’re trying to bring them down politically, now we’re also trying to do it economically and redistribute the wealth to the people.”

But the boycott is still at an infant stage, and unlikely to get much traction amongst the majority of the population.

What is of increasing concern to the Generals is the possibility of increased oversight of their budget in parliament. Back in November the government [and, by extension, the army] tried to pass through a constitutional declaration which [amongst other things] would have ensured the army’s budget would remain autonomous and under their direct control.

Critical issue

The people rose up and the declaration never passed, but it was an indication of just how critical the issue of their economy is to the military establishment, and the concern over an elected authority scrutinising it.

So far it does not seem like the new parliament, dominated by Islamists, will want to pick a fight with the army over where it gets it’s money.

But if Egypt is going to be a true democracy complete with transparency of it’s institutions, at some point the military will have to diverge some of it is business dealings and its privileges [subsidies, tax breaks] will be questioned.

In countries around the world the military enjoys a degree of benefits and even secrecy in its operations.

In Egypt where the army is already in hot water with the population, calls for accountability and transparency are growing.

Source: Al Jazeera

Egyptians urged to boycott army products

People have accepted the military's monopoly on power for years, but that now seems to be changing.

There has been a lot of discussion regarding the political power of Egypt's ruling military, but what about its economic strength?

From factories to restaurants, and electronic goods, the army is running a booming business.

And as Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros reports from Cairo, some people are calling for a boycott of goods sold by the army.

Egypt to hold presidential poll 'in May'

Vote for first president since Mubarak to take place about a month earlier than expected, state-owned newspaper reports.

Egypt's first presidential election since the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak will be held at the end of May, according to the state-owned Al-Ahram daily.

Citing a government minister, the newspaper said on Wednesday that the election time frame would give presidential hopefuls three weeks starting on March 10 to declare their candidacy, followed by 45 days of campaigning.

However, the actual date of the polls is to be set by the country's elections committee, Mohammed Attiya, the minister of parliamentary affairs and local development, told the paper.

The judicial election committee is the only body with the authority to set the election date.

Mounting pressure

The country's ruling military council, which took over from Mubarak in February last year, has faced massive street protests and mounting pressure to cede power to a civilian government sooner than an end-of-June deadline the council had set.

The military enjoyed hero status at the start of the uprising last year for refusing to shoot on demonstrators, but became the target of protester wrath over human rights abuses and the stifling of dissent.

Election officials announced earlier this month that nominations for the presidential race would be accepted from March 10, signalling that the generals have accelerated their planned handover of power by about a month.

Under new rules approved in a referendum last year, presidents will in future be limited to two consecutive, four-year terms.

The poll follows the completion of the first election since the uprising for the country's lower house of parliament, which saw Islamist parties take the majority of seats.

The Muslim Brotherhood, through its Freedom and Justice Party, took about 45 per cent, while the Nour Party, representing ultraconservative Salafis, took about 22 per cent.

Secular liberals and leftists won just 16 per cent. Parties whose membership has been tied to Mubarak - the so-called "felool" - managed to win roughly five per cent.

The first phase of voting for the country's upper house of parliament, a largely consultative body with limited powers, began last month. The second and final stage began on Tuesday, though it was marked by reports of low turnout.

Source: Agencies

pictures: The military has faced mass protests calling for a faster transfer to civilian rule [GALLO/GETTY]

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